Accountability at the Pentagon, Part I

Rep. Duncan Hunter slipped into the recent military spending bill a provision to eliminate the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The deed had to be done with stealth, because both Democrats and Republicans oppose this loss of oversight in Iraq. Several members of Congress say they plan to reverse the provision, which Hunter tried to portray as a “return to a non-wartime footing in which inspectors general in the State Department, the Pentagon and elsewhere would investigate American programs overseas.”

But in Congress, particularly on the Democratic side of the aisle, there have long been accusations that agencies controlled by the Bush administration are not inclined to unearth their own shortcomings in the first place.

The stunt pulled by Hunter shows why we need to ensure in particular that the next Inspector General of the Department of Defense is competent, independent, and non-partisan. Bush’s current nominee for that post, David H. Laufman, is none of those things. As I wrote in June, Laufman is a partisan hack who has no background that would really qualify him for such a critical post. Now more than ever, his nomination needs to be derailed.

Fortunately, this summer Senator Carl Levin temporarily blocked Laufman’s nomination until after the election. Levin’s reasons for opposing Laufman were much like my own. Now is the time to give the issue some publicity on line, and to begin organizing to urge the Senate when it reconvenes to reject Laufman once and for all. The Senate should demand a nominee who can fully be trusted to investigate waste, fraud, and abuse in every corner of the DOD. David Laufman is very far from being the best candidate for this critical job.

Even if the Democrats take control of one or both chambers of Congress, and even if the Special IG for Iraqi Reconstruction is restored, there will be little hope of gaining an accurate and comprehensive picture of the debacle in Iraq if Laufman is confirmed to the top job. What is more, Laufman might be in a position to scuttle the most sensitive part of the “Phase Two” investigation of pre-war intelligence, which Sen. Pat Roberts has been trying for years to kill off on behalf of the White House. In the words of investigative reporter Robert Parry, Laufman is a Republican “cleaner”. He has a track-record of killing off embarrassing investigations. I don’t want him controlling the Office of the Inspector General in the Pentagon, and neither should you.

I’ll provide some background now on what I and others have uncovered about David Laufman’s partisan career, and the reasons he’s unqualified to serve as IG. In a further installment, I’ll assess his statements to the Senate Armed Services Committee, his nomination hearing in July, and what is known about the state of his nomination.

Clearly it’s a good sign that Laufman’s nomination is five months old, and progress has been stalled now for more than three months. But a recess appointment by Bush is a distinct possibility.

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On June 1, when George Bush nominated David Laufman, the WH announcement indicated nothing about the man’s career that would show why he was qualified for the job. No mention that he’d ever worked in the Pentagon; no degree in finance or accounting; no experience in an inspector general’s office, nor in investigating fraud, waste or abuse; not even the slightest background in government contracting.

I try keep an eye on WH appointments, looking for unqualified cronies, and boy did this announcement scream crony with a capital K. So I investigated Laufman’s career, and the more I learned the worse he looked. At Daily Kos I posted my first assessment of the nomination, How is this man qualified to be Inspector General of DoD? Several commenters added more information, so I reworked the piece for Inconvenient News. Another commenter there highlighted information that I’d excluded from my analysis, and he took the story even further.

I reference all this partly because it’s a good example of on-line collaboration. Perhaps more significantly, the post at Inconvenient News seems to have seduced a lot of eyeballs this summer (to judge by the love it’s getting from Google). It’s a tad surprising when an obscure blog post on a wonky topic gets heavy-ish traffic. So maybe Laufman’s nomination is of concern to more than just a single Senator in DC.

To summarize the concerns raised by David Laufman’s career:

(i) Laufman has no background in the military.

(ii) Laufman has no background in the kinds of investigations he would oversee as Inspector General of the Defense Department.

(iii) Laufman earned a reputation as a Bush family cleaner, when as an attorney for House Republicans he helped to turn investigations of two scandals involving George H. W. Bush into whitewashes: the October Surprise investigation, and then the inquiry into the leak of Clinton’s passport information. As Robert Parry reported:

At the urging of the State Department’s inspector general, the passport case also prompted the appointment of a special prosecutor. But the conservative-dominated three-judge panel that picks special prosecutors named a trusted Republican, Joseph diGenova, to head the probe.

Also luckily for the Bush legacy, diGenova was hiring staff in early 1993 just as the House October Surprise task force was disbanding….DiGenova snapped up six veterans of the October Surprise staff, including … associate independent counsel David Laufman, who had worked for the CIA….

Later, one senior Clinton administration official reviewed the whitewashing of the October Surprise issue and similar handling of the passport case. The official shook his head in disgust. “They’re the cleaners,” he said about the investigative team, a reference to ruthless intelligence experts who are brought onto the scene of a botched operation to clean up the incriminating evidence.

In correspondence earlier this summer, Robert Parry confirmed that Laufman had worked for the CIA from 1980 to 1984 (that is to say, when Wm. Casey was Director), and that Laufman was the senior associate minority counsel for the October Surprise Task Force (which sought mightily to clear Casey’s name). In both the October Surprise and Passportgate investigations, Parry told me, Laufman assisted in covering up the facts; the investigations were merely a pretense of searching for the truth.

Laufman and others (some Democratic lawyers, too) joined in sweeping everything under the rug….

The facts went one way and the investigation went the other. They were, in that sense, political investigations rather than serious efforts to ascertain the truth.

It would be hard to exaggerate the damage that these two whitewashes did to the American political system. The failure of Congress to hold the senior Bush accountable for his part in apparent criminal conspiracies to throw two presidential elections to him, has encouraged further criminal behavior and a sense of helplessness in Congress. The malfeasance of the current administration would be almost unthinkable, had Laufman and his colleagues (yes, including some craven Democrats) done their jobs.

(iv) Laufman was extremely cavalier about the legal rights of detainees swept up willy nilly after 9/11/01, while he served in the office of the Deputy U.S. Attorney General. He behaved as if the laws are merely tools to manipulate in order to achieve whatever results the Bush administration wanted.

The DOJ Inspector General later investigated allegations of mistreatment of these detainees, and reported that David Laufman pressured the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to “not be in a hurry” to give prisoners access to communications to their lawyers or family members, and to “take policies to the legal limit” in withholding basic rights from detainees for as long as practicable.

It’s long been a principle of American jurisprudence that legal rights have no meaning unless people are actually permitted to exercise them. So Laufman was really advocating that the Director violate the law for a period.

(v) Since late 2003 as Assistant U.S. Attorney for Eastern Virginia, Laufman has prosecuted several war-on-terror cases for the Bush administration in ways that are so heavy-handed they nearly defy belief. He was one of the prosecutors who put the ten so-called ‘Paintball terrorists’ behind bars for decades, though there was precious little evidence of actual wrongdoing against most of the defendants. The penalties imposed were draconian according to Judge Leonie Brinkema, who eventually reduced some of the sentences as far as she was permitted under law.

Laufman also prosecuted Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the American citizen who confessed under apparent torture in Saudi Arabia to a plot to assassinate George W. Bush. It was an egregious prosecution, yet Laufman socked this improbable assassin away in the Big House for 30 years. Laufman was later given an award by Alberto Gonzales for his success in shepherding such an outlandish case through the shoals of law, reason, and human decency.

(vi) Laufman has been shamelessly inconsistent in the arguments he’s employed in trying to get courts to impose the stiffest possible penalties upon terrorism-suspects. Under draconian federal sentencing guidelines, he played the role of Drakon to the hilt. When the absolute grip of those guidelines was broken by the Supreme Court, he argued that judges are now free to impose sentences even more draconian than the guidelines require. In other words, Laufman is both ruthless and disingenuous with his use of power as a prosecutor.

This is a lengthy investigation, so I will post the remainder tomorrow in another installment.

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